Medical student resources

Why Choose a Career in Global Health?

Dr. Lisa V. Adams is the editor, along with Laurel A. Spielberg, of Africa: A Practical Guide for Global Health Workers. Also an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Professor of Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, Dr. Adams advises students and residents about how they might pursue a career in global health. What follows are some of the things she tells them:

  • There is no single right path to finding a satisfying career in global health, so choose the specialty that is your passion and there will be a way for you to engage in global health work.
  • If you are serious about wanting a career in global health (I try to discourage arrangements that allow people to “dabble” in global health work) you ought to develop the skill set that will help you be most effective in resource-limited settings. Most often this is done through further study in global health or public health, health systems, health economics and epidemiology or population health. Many physicians feel they must have a master’s in public health which can certainly helpful but sometime a series of coursework or short courses can be useful if taking an extra year for another degree is not feasible.
  • Find good mentors. Identify those who are practicing as you hope to practice some day and find ways to work with them. If that is not possible, ask if they would be willing to mentor you by meeting or communicating regularly so you can gain from their wisdom and experience. Ideally one’s mentor will be at their workplace but it is possible to have more distance mentors who can also provide sage advice and guidance for handling the various challenges you will face.
  • What might be right for you now may not be right for you in five or 10 years, and that’s okay. You will find you have different priorities at different times in your life and most of us have found ways to make our careers flex with our life stations. If you are untethered, I strongly advise considering an overseas longterm opportunity. This can be harder to do mid-career but never impossible. Plenty of physicians raise their families overseas while others prefer to be based in the US with (sometimes frequent) travel and time away from their family. These are individual decisions and it can be hard to predict too far into the future what will work for you.
  • I find the most important qualities in global health work are patience and flexibility. Most young physicians may have the flexibility so I often stress the patience.

Global Health Work for a Veteran MD

As with younger physicians, I would emphasize the important qualities of patience and flexibility – though perhaps for a more senior physician I would focus on the flexibility. The best senior colleagues I have worked with have retained their ability to adapt and are generally unflappable, and also understand the importance of mutual respect in al professional relationships. In no arena is this more important than in global health work. Good leadership requires above all being a good listener and we have learned we are much more effective in every aspect of our work if we keep an open mind, approach every interaction as a willing learner and listen more than we talk.

Series on International Health Programs

Next Up: Global Health Programs For MDs or medical students exploring global health programs, there are a variety of adjustments that must be made.

Peace Corps For many volunteers, Peace Corps offers a glimpse into global health care issues.

Peace Corps and Medical School A fourth-year medical student shares how her Peace Corps service defined her medical school experience.

Is Peace Corps Right for You? A Peace Corps specialist talks about skills, service, and volunteers interested in global health care.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Doctors Without Borders (MSF) attracts both new MDs right out of residency, as well as mid-career and veteran physicians.

Back: International Health Work What draws physicians to pursue international health work and global health care programs.

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